Hunger and horoscope
How the judiciary is entering fields which are strictly outside its domain has again been exemplified by two recent decisions.
Both are due to the government’s acts of omission and commission. For instance, had the government been more concerned about the distress among the poor, especially in the traditionally neglected tribal areas, there would have been no need for the Supreme Court to direct it to ensure food supplies for these regions. As recent reports have shown, deaths have occurred in states like Orissa although the food godowns have been overflowing with grains. As may be expected, when confronted with such stark realities, the officials and politicians have engaged in a game of buck-passing, with the Centre blaming the states and the latter attributing the deaths to disease or malnutrition instead of starvation.
Given such evidence of callousness, the Supreme Court is entirely justified in criticising the Orissa government for its failure to identify the people living below the poverty line. The court has also set a two-week deadline for implementing the policy of food distribution. It was moved to act in response to a petition from a human rights group which asked whether the right to life under Article 21 of the Constitution does not include the right of access to food. However, the judiciary might not have intervened if the government had done its duty of making the so-called targeted food distribution system, meant for serving the poor, work in a satisfactory manner.
If it is an act of omission by the government in the matter of feeding the poor which the apex court is now trying to rectify, the judiciary’s notices to the HRD ministry and the UGC on the introduction of astrology in the educational system have followed an act of commission. There was no need for the UGC to introduce a subject like astrology which is derided by the entire scientific community in India and outside. As the petitioners have pointed out to the court, this ‘irrational’ step represents a ‘giant leap backwards’ in the field of science. There is need to be grateful, therefore, to the Supreme Court for seeking an explanation from the HRD ministry and the UGC for taking this curious step.
But the point remains that the judiciary’s excursion into these areas is the result of the government’s abject failure to adhere to certain norms.